Back in November when the world was reeling from the recent elections in the United States, I met up with a friend. They were very upset about the results and the conversation went something like this:
Someone: I’m really upset about what’s happening in the world out there. It’s such a mess. There’s so much hate and violence that’s being stirred up because Trump won.
Me: What is bothering you the most right now?
Someone: I can’t stand that we elected Trump. I hate him. He’s misogynistic, greedy and disgusting. He’s just evil.
This person represents how many people feel these days. They are upset about all the hatred and violence that’s out there in the world, yet they are completely unaware of the hatred they experience in their lives, the hatred they have within themselves.
I didn’t say anything else but I thought about it a little more. What came to me was this — maybe if we all took a look at the hatred and fear we have within ourselves and towards ourselves, then we really could change the world.
It’s easy to blame others and project what’s within us outside of us. It’s easy to label it as evil. We’ve been doing that for millennia. The real work and true transformation comes from looking within.
I remember when I was working through this myself. It was 2007.
I had just begun my sophomore year of college when terrorists flew airplanes into buildings on September 11th, 2001. That day and the period after were very important for me, but it wasn’t until later that I realized why.
It brought the issue of good and evil front and center in my life.
As an 18 year old girl, I watched these events and wondered why they were happening. At the time, I couldn’t understand why, so I did the only thing I could do. I neatly filed these terrorists under the slot in my mind labeled “evil” and left them there.
It felt resolved. I walked away from it feeling secure with myself knowing that I was good and they were bad. I decided that hatred and evil existed in the world and it was something to be feared, resisted, and fought against. More importantly, it wasn’t me. I was not evil. Problem solved.
Six years later, something prompted me to open up these files and look at them again. I felt drawn to read the book “The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright.
I couldn’t put the book down. I was amazed at the personal stories of the terrorists, especially Osama Bin Laden himself. I read about his difficult childhood growing up in a poor country with enormous economic hardships and challenges. He suddenly became a “real” person in my eyes, not some archetype of evil I had imagined him to be.
I too was experiencing hardships in my life. They were very different from his, but nonetheless, they were challenges.
I put myself in his shoes and wondered if, presented with the same challenges, I would respond the same way he did. I realized that maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter.
My categories of good and evil were slowly crumbling and becoming murky. What I thought was so black and white was now becoming shades of grey.
I saw that what I previously believed was evil was simply a person experiencing deep pain and fear and responding to and acting out that pain and fear.
After that book, I couldn’t look at the world the same way again.
Whenever I saw someone expressing hatred, I looked for what was underneath. I always saw a wounded person and I always saw fear.
I looked at my own life at the people I hated. I saw for the first time that the way they were acting that made me hate them was their own wounds that they were trying to resolve.
Now that I saw this, I couldn’t unsee it. There was no more good and evil for me. It was all varied expressions of pain and fear.
Somewhere in those realizations, I forgave the terrorists. I understood that they were responding to their own pain and fear and that I am, at my core, no different than they are. I am also a person living in the world, acting and responding to my pain and fear. I just made different choices.
Later, I turned even further inward and looked at all the ways that I hated myself. This was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I faced many parts of myself that I’d previously judged as bad or evil.
In looking at them honestly, they too began to morph and become murky, not so black and white anymore.
Looking at the hatred you have for yourself takes the ultimate courage and the ultimate compassion. Forgiving someone else is relatively easy.
Forgiving yourself is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Now I share here with you what I didn’t share in my conversation the other day: If you are indeed truly tired of the hatred in this world, then look in the mirror.
I know that seems harsh but it’s where the real change begins.
Look at your own life, the hatred within yourself. Stop trying to fight it because it will never work. Protests and aggression will never bring about the transformation you are looking for.
I also know that while many people say they want peace and love everywhere, they don’t really want that.
Deep down, they’re very much enjoying the experience of fighting evil, the battle between light vs. dark. And why wouldn’t they? It’s an amazing experience to have, one I’ve spent lifetimes playing out.
But eventually, it gets old. You get tired of seeing things in black and white. You’re ready for something new.
If you’re reading this article, you too are ready to let go of the battle. You’re ready to debunk evil. It starts by getting curious.
Look underneath the hatred you see out there and see what you can find. Perhaps you’ll find a person just like yourself. Maybe you’ll see your own pain and fear reflected in another’s eyes. Perhaps you’ll realize that we all have the same potentials for violence and darkness, no matter who we are of where we come from.
Maybe, just maybe, you can begin to let go of your own hatred and start to forgive others.
And then, more importantly, forgive yourself.
This story was also published here in Elephant Journal.
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